27 March 2013
Why I Didn't Give Up Cycling
I have been cycling, in one way or another, for more than four decades. Now I do not pedal nearly as many miles (or kilometres) as I did "back in the day." But I feel that, in some way, cycling is as much a part of my life now as it was then.
Through all of those years, there was one period when I seriously considered giving up cycling altogether. I was going to keep one bike "for old time's sake" and, perhaps, for errands and transportation. But I thought that my days as a regular rider were going to come to an end.
That time came early in my life as Justine. I really didn't know how, or even whether, I could combine cycling--or, more precisely, my identity as a cyclist (There were years in which I pedaled 360 days and 25,000 or more kilometers!) with the life on which I was about to embark. One reason for that was, frankly, I had practically no idea of what the life on which I was embarking would be like. Oh, I had visions of who and what Justine would be. But, as happens with nearly everyone who undergoes a gender transition, my expectations--and the sort of woman I would become--differed, at least somewhat. Although my therapist, social worker, doctor and other transgender people who were further along in their transitions--or who'd had surgery and were living fully in their "new" genders--told me such a thing would probably happen, I had no idea of what I would become as a woman.
Also, I was trying so hard to be the sort of woman I envisioned at the beginning of my transition that it took me time to realize that it could encompass much more than I imagined at the time--and that, of course, the sort of woman I could, and would, become could be different. I'd entered my transition with ideas of what women in the '40's and '50's were like, which were the ideas to which early transsexuals like Christine Jorgensen conformed, and what the public expected of transsexuals (to the extent that they paid attention to us).
But, perhaps the most important reason why I thought I might not ride anymore was that so much of my cycling had been a means of escape, however temporary. Whether I was pedaling 180 rpm on the Prospect Park loop or hugging the edge of a virage in the Alps--or dodging taxis and giving the one-fingered peace sign to drivers who got in my way--bicycling had always been a means of escape for me. I think now of a friendly acquaintance who was one of the first women to attend her undergraduate college on a track and field scholarship. She has told me that whether she was training on local streets or pumping away during the state championships, she was "running for my life by running from my life". She never would have been able to attend her college without that scholarship, she said. But, perhaps even more important, she says she doesn't know how she would have "survived, in one piece" a childhood that included incest and other forms of dysfunction and disease in her family.
My childhood wasn't nearly as Dickensian as hers. Perhaps I shouldn't say that, for such a comparison may not make any sense: After all, she suffered at the hands of other people, while most of my torment came from within me. Still, I could relate to what she said as much as anything anyone else has said to me. Her running and my cycling had been means of escape, however momentary.
She hasn't run, even for fitness, in more than two decades. She has taken up other sports (including cycling, which is how I know her) and forms of training, but she has not run since the day she was doing laps in the park and "asking myself why," she said.
But I didn't give up cycling because, frankly, I probably have always enjoyed it more than she liked running, and I now have more reasons to continue on two wheels than she does on the training loop. Also, during my second year of living as Justine, I was running errands and shopping after work one Friday. It was a pleasantly cool day in May,and I was still in the blouse, skirt and low heels I'd worn to work that day. I had just come out of a store and was unlocking my bike from a parking meter when a tall black man chatted me up. "Are you European?", he wondered.
"Well, I've lived and traveled there," I explained. "But I'm from here, and I've lived most of my life here."
"You look more like a European woman, getting around on your bike," he said. He confirmed what I suspected, from his accent and mannerisms, that he was born in Africa but had lived much of his life in Europe--specifically, France.